Empowering Women: Pap Test Awareness

Did you know that cervical cancer is a disease that is 90 per cent preventable?

As regional coordinator of the Cervical Screening Initiatives (CSI) Program for the Avalon region, I’m part of a full team of individuals who work together across the province to keep current in the latest cervical cancer research and trends. In turn, we educate and encourage as many women as possible to get Pap tests.

The program, managed by Eastern Health and overseen and supported by all regional health authorities, aims to raise awareness about the importance of Pap tests among women as the best way to prevent cervical cancer.

(l-r) Kayla Boland, program assistant and Susan White, regional coordinator with the Cervical Screening Initiatives Program visit the Kenmount Bingo Corporation (2015)

(l-r) Kayla Boland, program assistant and Susan White, regional coordinator with the Cervical Screening Initiatives Program (2015)

Sometimes, it can be challenging to reach women who don’t get Pap tests, or who don’t get them regularly, so we have to find creative ways to communicate with women – whether they live in urban or rural areas. The CSI Program tries to reach women wherever they congregate, whether it is at a salon/spa, bingo group or church event!

In 2012, the CSI Program introduced Women’s Health Days, occasions where we invite women to come to a day of learning about various women’s health issues and/or cancers.

Women’s Health Day, Placentia, 2012

Women’s Health Day, Placentia, 2012

The first ‘day’ was held in Placentia, and was so successful that the CSI Program was invited to do similar events in the communities of Riverhead and Ferryland. We heard a lot of positive comments from participants, such as:

“Congratulations on organizing such a successful day! The energy in the room was palpable! So nice to see so many women empowered to maintain good health!”

“I really enjoyed the event.  I hope you continue with these.  I learned things very important for my own health.”

We reached hundreds of women during these days, and even more impactful, a number of women following these sessions booked Pap tests!

(l-r) Susan White, regional coordinator with Kayla Boland, program assistant with the Cervical Screening Initiatives Program partner with the Carbonear Relay for Life (2016)

(l-r) Susan White, regional coordinator with Kayla Boland, program assistant with the Cervical Screening Initiatives Program partner with the Carbonear Relay for Life (2016)

Pap testing is offered by family physicians, nurse practitioners, and front line health-care providers.  Across the province, we have over 90 Pap clinics that are open to any woman for a Pap test.

From 2013 to 2015, almost 100 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in the province, and in 2016, Newfoundland and Labrador reported the highest rate of cervical cancer in Canada.

What is encouraging is that we’re finding more cancers at an early stage – where treatments are readily available and accessible. This is one reason why educating women about screening is key to more positive outcomes when it comes to cervical cancer!

For example, did you know that:

  • Women who are sexually active should begin Pap testing at the age of 21?
  • Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, you should have a Pap test every three years?
  • Women with abnormal Pap history should continue yearly Pap testing?

Partnerships with community organizations are paramount in helping to raise awareness about Pap testing. Family Resource Centres, community health nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians, non-government organizations and churches all help us spread the word about the importance of cancer screening!

When people see the CSI Program posters and promotional items, they talk about it. CSI awareness campaigns are designed to move the disease out of the clinical context, where it is discussed in medical terms, and into mainstream conversation.

And with talk – comes action.

Get tested.

90 per cent preventable. Those are odds you can live with.

This story was written by Susan White, regional coordinator for the Avalon region with the Cervical Screening Initiatives Program at Eastern Health.

October 23-29 is Pap Test Awareness Week in Newfoundland and Labrador. To learn more about cervical cancer screening, or to find a Pap test clinic near you, please visit: www.easternhealth.ca/CancerCare.

2 responses to “Empowering Women: Pap Test Awareness

  1. Actually, empowering women is not telling women what to do, but respecting their legal right to make an informed decision about cancer screening. I believe informed consent is largely missing from women’s cancer screening, and with cervical screening, sometimes there is no consent at all. (“you need one for the Pill”, NOT true, your medical history and a blood pressure test are the only requirements for the Pill; it should be a scandal that women have been pressured, misled and coerced into testing when they simply wanted the Pill) The Pill has been proven safe over decades and should have been taken off script many years ago.

    I don’t screen, I made an informed decision many years ago, but it meant doing my own research, I found the “information” provided to women was incomplete and skewed in favour of screening. There is also, an impatience with women who choose not to screen, we’re all expected to do as we’re told, very 1950!
    Many women have been worried and harmed by this testing, tragically, most of the damage was avoidable with evidence based testing and informed consent. Our GPs receive target payments for pap testing, yet this potential conflict of interest is never mentioned to women.

    I’m not sure how these programs get away with treating women like second class citizens, trampling all over our legal rights.
    Only about 5% of women have a small chance of benefiting from cervical screening, those HPV+ and aged 30 to 60.
    MOST women are HPV- and NOT at risk of cervical cancer and cannot benefit from pap testing.
    The Dutch offer HPV testing or HPV self-testing at ages 30,35,40,50 and 60 and only the roughly 5% who test HPV+ are offered a 5 yearly pap test. (until they test HPV-)
    Many women test just once, those HPV- and no longer sexually active or confidently monogamous.
    Our new HPV testing program (due to start next year) will again, side with excess, great for vested interests, a lousy deal for women. (self-testing will also, be locked away until women decline the invasive HPV test for 6 years – of course, you can order the test online and pay for it yourself)
    Long standing evidence says HPV testing should never start before age 30, we’ll start at 25 so young women will continue to suffer under our new program (The Dutch and Finns have never offered pap testing to women under age 30 – sadly, it doesn’t help, but leads to lots of potentially harmful over-treatment and excess biopsies) Australian women have endured serious over-screening under our current program, that resulted in high false positive, over-treatment and excess biopsy rates for no additional benefit to women – we “treat” more than 10 times the number of women than a country like Finland.

    I’ve also, declined breast screening – the best information is on the website of the Nordic Cochrane Institute, an independent, not for profit, medical research group. Over-diagnosis and over-treatment are a huge concern, I believe the risks with breast screening exceed any benefit – I’d urge every women to read the summary and make up their own mind.
    Heads should roll over the treatment of women by these programs, vested interests should never be permitted to control or influence these programs, they care about profits, not women. Breast Screen still use celebrity endorsement to encourage women to have breast screening, how does that respect informed consent? It’s time something was done to pull these programs and the medical profession into line, women, like men, are entitled to evidence based screening programs and some respect for informed consent, and yes, we can say NO

    • Thank you for your comments. Providing women with the information to make an informed choice is a cornerstone of the Cervical Screening Initiatives (CSI) program in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. The CSI program provides promotion, education and access to screening for women who choose to participate.

      In Newfoundland and Labrador, cervical screening is provided through front-line family physicians, nurse practitioners and regional nurses. The CSI program does not have a target-payment system. In addition, women living in Newfoundland and Labrador do not require a Pap test before a prescription for birth control is provided.

      The CSI program follows the evidence-based recommendations for screening issued by the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care. There is high quality evidence that shows screening for cervical cancer with Pap tests reduces morbidity and mortality among women 30 to 69 years of age; and moderate quality evidence that suggests screening women ages 25 to 29 will have a small effect in reducing morbidity and mortality. The CSI program also offers the HPV test as a standard of care for women over 30 years of age with a lesser abnormality in Pap test results.

      The Canadian Partnership Against Cancer has developed a Cancer Risk Management Tool that identifies screening intervals, target groups, screening tools and vaccine implications to maximize benefits and minimize harms. Unfortunately, the majority of women who present with cervical cancer have little-to-no screening profile. Cervical cancer screening is a personal choice.

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